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After the Politics of Parsing video going viral, a lot of attention has focused on the to-ing and fro-ing between supporters and detractors of Senator Clinton regarding the messaging of the video ...

... but a question that has been floating out there, largely unasked, is where was John Edwards looking to go with this?

Well, the other shoe has dropped ... as David Sirota noted last week, Edwards Move Makes Trade '08 Centerpiece ... and that is where the viral video was going.

As quoted by David today, in his diary In Iowa Speech, Edwards Demands Answers From Clinton On NAFTA Expansion

"For the sake of hard-working families in Iowa and all across America, I hope that Senator Clinton will finally take a stand, do what is right and join me in strongly opposing the Peru trade deal."

Why launch this with the double-talk theme? One possible answer, after the fold.

The Famous CAFTA "No" Vote

Every once in a while, I see Senator Clinton's position on trade defended by pointing to her "No" vote on CAFTA. And early on, I went to look at what she actually said at the time of that vote ... and this is what I found:

Statement of Senator Clinton for the Congressional Record on Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (30 June, 2005)

... When DR-CAFTA negotiations began, I was eager to support an agreement. It was my sincere hope that President Bush would send an agreement to Congress that would help address the DR-CAFTA nations’ development challenges and spread the gains from trade more broadly. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has not submitted such an agreement, instead missing a tremendous opportunity to conclude an agreement that strengthens the bonds between the United States and the DR-CAFTA nations. While this agreement provides some benefit for New York, I regretfully conclude the harm outweighs the good. I must therefore vote to oppose.

Now, that sounds clear enough ... it was a bad trade deal, so she opposed it. However, that raises a question ... if CAFTA was not good enough, what would be good enough? The answer to that question is what startled me:

The most problematic elements are its labor provisions which retreat from advances made in the late 1990s and that culminated in the labor provisions of the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement. The U.S.-Jordan Free Trade agreement included internationally recognized enforceable labor standards in the text of the agreement. Sadly, DR-CAFTA is a step backward. The labor provisions of the DR-CAFTA agreement instead used an "enforce your own laws" standard which is not included in any other area of the agreement. An "enforce your own laws" standard may work in nations with a strong tradition of labor enforcement, but the International Labor Organization (ILO) has documented that the CAFTA countries’ labor laws have not complied with international norms in at least 20 areas.

The US-Jordan FTA is the benchmark here ... that would have been good enough.

Well, would it be good enough?

So, What is the Labor Rights Record under the US-Jordan FTA?

Here is coverage of an aspect of trade between the US and Jordan under the US-Jordan FTA, from the National Labor Committee, U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement Descends into Human Trafficking and Involuntary Servitude

Here are the headlines ... the details are in the sections of the reporting linked into from the above:

In the Western factory, which was producing for Wal-Mart, four young women, including a 16-year old girl, were raped by plant managers. Despite being forced to work 109 hours a week, including 20-hour shifts, the workers received no wages for six months. Workers who fell asleep from exhaustion were struck with a ruler to wake them up.

At the Al Shahaed factory, also producing for Wal-Mart, there were 24, 38 and even 72-hour shifts. The workers were paid an average wage of two cents an hour. Workers were slapped, kicked, punched and hit with sticks and belts.

In a factory called Al Safa, which was sewing garments for Gloria Vanderbilt, a young woman hung herself after being raped by a manager.

All across Jordan, tens of thousands of foreign guest workers, mostly from Bangladesh, China, India and Sri Lanka, are routinely forced to work 100-plus hours a week while being cheated of upwards of half the wages legally owed them. Any worker asking for their proper wages can be imprisoned.

Factory bathrooms lack toilet paper, soap and towels. Dorm conditions are primitive, often lacking running water three or four days a week. Any worker speaking one word of truth about the abusive factory conditions will be attacked and forcibly deported without any of the back wages due them.

Jordan's apparel exports to the U.S. are up 2000 percent between 2000 and 2005, reaching $1.1 billion, and these garments enter the U.S. duty-free. (Garments from Jordan go to Europe as well as the U.S.)

Who Can Bring A Dispute For Resolution? Hint: Not You or I

Now, if the language of the US-Jordan FTA is so great, how come US labor unions do not simply bring a case to the trade tribunal? All of these examples cited above are clear violations of the language of the US-Jordan FTA.

Well, this is how dispute resolution was described in the 28 September 2001 press release from the time when the FTA was about to go into effect:

The Jordan FTA places a premium on cooperative resolution of disputes.  The Governments of the United States and Jordan exchanged letters in July 2001 acknowledging that few, if any, differences are expected to arise in how we interpret this Agreement, given the strong and cooperative relations between our countries.  In the very unlikely event that differences arise, the Governments agreed in the letters that they expect to resolve such situations through consultations and other cooperative means, rather than through formal dispute settlement procedures.

    The Jordan FTA creates a multi-step, transparent dispute settlement process.  Any dispute that cannot be resolved through consultation may be referred to a panel of independent experts for a non-binding opinion.  If a dispute cannot be settled after panel proceedings are completed, the FTA authorizes the affected party to take any "appropriate and commensurate measure," without specifying the form that this action should take. However, the party taking the action may not act in a manner that is inconsistent with its WTO obligations.  Because the United States already has a Bilateral Investment Treaty with Jordan, the FTA does not include an investment provision.

And who can bring a dispute up for resolution? Well:

Although it is significant that investment disputes are not privileged over labor disputes, the U.S.-Jordan Agreement nonetheless has significant weaknesses. Most strikingly, the Agreement does not permit private parties to challenge violations of the labor provisions. Rather, it forces them to rely on State Parties to challenge such violations. Lastly, the Agreement does not create explicit sanctions for violations of the labor provisions.

Human Rights Brief, Volume 8 Issue 3: The Free Trade Area of the Americas and Human Rights Concerns

So no matter what labor violations happen in Jordan, there is no option for a labor union to bring a case ... it can only lobby the government to bring a case.

And that is the crux of the problem. Under Senator Clinton's benchmark for a high-quality FTA, the Jordan-FTA, private corporations can bring cases alleging violations of trade provisions ... but private parties cannot bring cases alleging violations of labor standards.

Avoiding Double-Talk on So-Called Free Trade Agreements

A defender of Senator Clinton might note that, while signed under President Clinton's administration, the US Jordan FTA has been implemented and administered under Resident Bush's regime. However, that is a distinction without a difference. An FTA is implemented as a permanent institution. If it requires that each and every Presidential Administration places a very high priority on enforcing labor standard to function ... then it is built to fail.

And this is why it is so critical to press for our Senators ... whether or not they are running for President ... to take a clear stand. Will they vote for a so-called Free Trade Agreement that locks out labor unions from bringing a case, when the labor standards are violated?

Originally posted to BruceMcF on Sun Nov 04, 2007 at 11:06 AM PST.

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